Mentoring Men: Free program helps blokes overcome challenges

Mentoring Men was founded in 2018 and has grown to reach more than 700 men.
Mentoring Men was founded in 2018 and has grown to reach more than 700 men.

If it wasn't for Mentoring Men, I wouldn't be here today.

That's a text message Ian Westmoreland received recently from one of the participants of the Mentoring Men program.

It's not the only one. Since Mr Westmoreland founded the program in 2018, more than 700 men across the country have taken part in the free service which matches a trained mentor with a mentee that might be doing it a bit tough.

The pair might meet over coffee, go for a run or even play tennis.

"Sometimes you just need someone to talk to when you are doing it a bit tough," Mr Westmoreland said.

Rewind to 2013 - in fact September 10 , 2013, and Mr Westmoreland held a senior position in the IT world.

Until a train ride changed the path he was heading on. A reboot, if you will.

"I read something that talked about the meaning of life and is it getting married, having kids, getting a good job and even buying a boat and then at 59 and a half collecting retirement and then you die," he said of the moment which changed his life which happened to fall on World Suicide Prevention Day.

"At was actually 59 and a half to the day I read that and I thought there is more to life than delivering software changes and making money so a few months later I quit my job and volunteered to mentor kids at school.

"Mentoring had a big impact on me and what I found was I needed a mentor to talk too but when I went to find a local free life mentoring program, there wasn't anything widely available."

Enter Mentoring Men. The not-for-profit organisation is about ordinary men stepping up and helping care and listen to other men going through life challenges.

It's widely known men often find it difficult to seek support or to acknowledge needing assistance, so isolation and stress can build up to a breaking point. Alarmingly, out of every eight suicides daily in Australia, six will be men. More than 2500 Australian male deaths are listed as suicides each year.

"Mentoring Men is all about early intervention and prevention. So the guy loses his job and we're there supporting him, right there; not waiting six months till he develops addictions and his relationships fall apart and starts to think about self harm and spiraling down to the point of crisis," Mr Westmoreland said.

"Women will get together without requiring a reason, but men need a reason - whether it be sport or something else - and when that disappears we can often become isolated.

"The majority of suicides are situational; it's not mental health, it's loneliness and isolation."

Mentoring Men, who have an office at Ingleburn, have been very proactive in south-west Sydney with 90 men using the service. They welcome all men regardless of their background and beliefs.

Mentoring Men is all about early intervention and prevention.

Ian Westmoreland

South Western Sydney Program Manager Angela Guestrau said the program is about "real guys" volunteering their life experience to help men that are going through challenges in their lives. All the mentors complete a two-day training course centred on active listening and in suicide prevention.

"The mentors that put their hand up to volunteer their time to help another man through life's challenges are usually the ones who have had their own challenges to overcome: job loss, family breakdown or illness. They have been through the trench and come out the other side and want to positively impact another man's life," she said.

"The mentees often don't want to talk about these things with the people closest to them so having a person you have never met you before or know your history to openly talk to in non-clinical environment is real helpful."

Ms Guestrau said during the COVID-19 lockdown they saw a big rise in people using the service due to men being in isolation. The program still operated via Zoom and over the phone.

Men from 18 to 90 utilise the service which sees mentors and mentees matched by LGA. They are currently seeking more mentees and mentors for the program.

Recently Mentoring Men in conjunction with CORE Community Services hosted an event for Arabic speaking men in Fairfield.

Mentoring Men in conjunction with CORE Community Services hosted an event for Arabic speaking men in Fairfield recently.

Mentoring Men in conjunction with CORE Community Services hosted an event for Arabic speaking men in Fairfield recently.

Fairfield MP Guy Zangari was the guest speaker at the event which shed light on the importance of mentoring for men in the community.

"Men being supported by men, creates a community of care," Mr Zangari said.

"Mentoring Men is needed in the community to prevent the Australian male suicide rate which is over three times the female rate.

"Age shouldn't be a barrier to mentoring someone. Role modelling and mentoring is critical in developing men who in turn inspire other men."